12 Incredible Things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica’s Adventure Capital

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If you’re visiting the amazing country of Costa Rica, there’s a pretty solid chance you’re headed to La Fortuna and for good reason. La Fortuna is absolutely incredible, with lush rainforests, dramatic waterfalls, and a literal volcano towering over it- is it any wonder the city’s name translates to “The Fortune”? So if you’re ready for lots of outdoor adventures in nature’s most epic playground, buckle up- here’s 12 of the best things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

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How to Get to La Fortuna, Costa Rica

To get to La Fortuna, you can either fly into the Juan Santamaría International Airport in Costa Rica’s largest city of San Jose, or, less commonly, the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in the city of Liberia.

Both of these airports are located approximately 130 km or a two and a half hour drive away from La Fortuna. You have a couple of different options of getting to La Fortuna from either San Jose or Liberia.

Motorcyclist in front of the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Getting to La Fortuna by rental car

The best way to get around Costa Rica, in my opinion, is by rental car. Generally, the roads in Costa Rica, especially around the more touristed areas, like La Fortuna, are well maintained (so no need for a 4WD vehicle) and offer stunning views along the way.

The only real downside is that renting a car here is surprisingly expensive, especially when factoring in additional add-ons, like insurance.

Gravel road leading to the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Getting to La Fortuna by shuttle

If you’re not living that bougie rental car life, you can book transfers from San Jose to La Fortuna here and from Liberia here.

Getting to La Fortuna by bus

As the cheapest option, you can take public transport from either San Jose or Liberia for less than $10.

From the San Jose bus terminal, the bus departs one time every day at 8:40 AM and heads to La Fortuna. You should get to the terminal early to purchase tickets, as you cannot purchase them online, and they occasionally sell out. While this option is cheap (about $5), it’s not very comfortable- the bus doesn’t have air conditioning, some unlucky travelers usually have to stand for the duration of the journey, and it takes between four and six hours.

The directions from Liberia to La Fortuna are not as straightforward and involve taking three buses and anywhere from between one to three taxi rides, which usually takes at least seven hours. Unless you’re on a real shoe string budget, I would not recommend using public transit to get from Liberia to La Fortuna.

Woman overlooking Rio Celeste waterfall near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

The attractions around La Fortuna are fairly spread out, some as far as an hour and a half drive away. Accordingly, if you can swing it, I’d strongly recommend renting a car while you’re in La Fortuna.

While you can Uber to some of the places that are closer to town or book tours to attractions that are farther away, that’ll definitely add up over time- and ultimately, a rental car may be a better value.

Best Time to Visit La Fortuna, Costa Rica

La Fortuna’s proximity to the equator means you can expect tropical temperatures and wild greenery all year round.

The most popular time to visit La Fortuna is from mid-December through April, when the weather is warm and reasonably dry, offering the perfect environment for exploring all of La Fortuna’s incredible landscape. Attractions will be a LOT more crowded during this time, though, and expect airfare and accommodations to be a bit pricier than during the low season.

It’s also worth being aware that, even if you visit La Fortuna during the *dry* season, the area’s lushness is thanks to the copious amounts of rain it receives all year round. Accordingly, don’t forget to include a rain jacket (like this one for men or this one for women) on your Costa Rica packing list, regardless of when you visit.

From May through November, the afternoons are generally quite rainy. However, if you don’t mind taking a midday siesta from your adventures, you’ll enjoy cheaper prices, less crowds, and waterfalls and rivers at their most dramatic!

Arenal Volcano covered in clouds in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Things To Do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Whether you’re a photographer, adrenaline junkie, or just an outdoor lover, La Fortuna has so many adventures to include in your Costa Rica itinerary. Here are 12 incredible things to do in La Fortuna.

1. Catarata del Toro

Catarata del Toro is an ecological reserve, tucked away in the lush rainforests of the Central Valley, with some of the most magnificent waterfalls in Costa Rica. I’m including it first because, if you have a rental car, it’s located about an hour and a half southeast of La Fortuna and is a great detour on your way from the San Jose to La Fortuna.

Woman standing in front of Catarata del Toro near La Fortuna, Costa Rica

The park offers several attractions- the eponymous waterfall, which towers 90 meters (300 feet) above the impossible green jungle below; the Blue Falls (or Las Gemelas), which consists of one turquoise waterfall and one emerald green waterfall, each nestled in their own canyons; and Poza Azul, a pool of brilliant blue water you can swim in. 

There’s no public transport or tours from La Fortuna that go to Catarata del Toro, so this is really only accessible if you have a rental car or are willing to take a (very expensive) taxi. That being said, if you have the flexibility to go here, I’d highly recommend it.

Given its remoteness, you basically get the waterfalls to yourself. And beyond the lack of crowds, there’s SO much to see and do on the property. In fact, my husband, Justin, and I arrived at the property around 9:30 AM and barely saw a fraction of its sights before we had to start driving back to La Fortuna around 4 PM!

If you wanna learn more, we wrote a whole post about everything you need to know about Catara del Toro.

Entrance fee and operating hours: $15 to see just the main waterfall, Catarata del Toro, or $25 to see both Catarata del Toro and the Blue Falls, along with a bunch of other falls and pools on the eastern side of the preserve (seriously, get the combo ticket!). The park is open from 7 AM to 5 PM Monday through Saturday. You can check the most up-to-date information about the park’s opening hours and pricing here.

Woman standing in a lush canyon near the Blue Falls in Catarata del Toro

2. Hot Springs

Several decades ago, La Fortuna became one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica, due to its location by the stunning Arenal Volcano, which looms over the town. And thanks to Arenal’s volcanic geothermal energy, one of the best things to do in La Fortuna is to enjoy its natural hot springs!

Most of the hot springs in La Fortuna are commercialized and in private resorts or parks, meaning you’ll either have to stay at the resorts or purchase a day pass to access the springs.

Woman wading in Ecotermales Hot Spring in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

That being said, there’s options for every kind of traveler- from Los Laureles Hot Springs, a simple pool with a BYOB policy (costing $12 for an all-day pass) to super swanky resorts with man-made hot spring waterfalls and lush landscaping (costing $80+ for an all-day pass).

If you’re looking for which hot springs to try, I’d recommend the following, depending on your budget and overall vibe you’re looking for:

Budget Hot Springs:

There’s actually one FREE natural hot spring, tucked away in the jungle, that you can enjoy, which is located here! You’ll just be asked to pay 3000 colones to a local, who will help you find a parking spot along the road and will watch your car while you’re soaking in the water. This place is always busy, but it’s definitely a great place to meet locals and soak in a bit more authentic Costa Rican culture.

Alternatively, as mentioned above, another budget-friendly (and favorite with the locals) is Los Laureles.

Bougie on a budget:

Ecotermales Hot Spring ($47 for a half-day pass). This is where we went during our time in La Fortuna and LOVED it.

Woman walking into a pool at Ecotermales Hot Springs in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Family-friendly:

Baldi Resort Hotel and Spa ($47 for an all-day pass for adults)

Luxury:

The Springs ($67 for an all-day pass for adults) or Tabacon Hot Springs (starting at $81 for an all-day pass for adults)

Tabacon Hot Springs in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

3. Chocolate tour

While bananas and coffee are now Costa Rica’s primary crops, cacao was once king. In fact, the Chorotega people actually used cacao beans as currency up until the 1930s! So why not check out a working cacao farm, where you can learn all about the process of producing and creating everyone’s favorite treat?

While there’s a variety of La Fortuna chocolate tours to choose from, Don Olivio Chocolate Tour ($25/person) is the most popular option. At this locally-owned and operated farm, you’ll get to see (and, more importantly, taste!) the tropical fruits, chocolate, and coffee the family grows on their stunning property. And extra bonus- this is usually a great place to spot sloths!

Man opening cacao pod

Alternatively, if you’d rather have a choco-centric tour, check out the Rainforest Chocolate Tour ($30/person), where you’ll actually get to make your own chocolate creation at the end!

4. Rio Celeste 

Buckle up for Rio Celeste, arguably the most famous waterfall in Costa Rica!

This cascade, known for its jaw-dropping turquoise hue, is located along a 5.4 km (3.4 mile) hiking trail in Tenorio Volcano National Park, about 1.5 hours northwest of La Fortuna. While Rio Celeste makes an excellent daytrip from La Fortuna, it also is the perfect pit stop if you’re heading from Liberia to the Arenal area.

Couple looking at Rio Celeste waterfall in Tenorio Volcano National Park in Costa Rica

The local legend behind this waterfall is so sweet. It was believed that when god was painting the bright blue skies, he dipped his paintbrush in the river, leaving behind the incredible color.

While the national park is known primarily for this dreamy waterfall, there’s a ton of amazing things you’ll see along the trail– bubbling electric blue hot springs, beautiful rainforest flora, and abundant wildlife.

Man hiking along the Rio Celeste trail in Costa Rica

After you enjoy exploring the waterfall, be sure to make a stop at this free swimming spot right outside of the national park (located here), where you take a dip in the vibrantly colored river to cool off! There’s a handful of parking spots at a pull-off here, but, since there’s no parking attendant to watch your car, we just made the 15 minute walk from the Rio Celeste trailhead.

Rio Celeste is fairly remote- you’ll either need to drive here in a rental car or, alternatively, there’s several Rio Celeste tours, like this one, that leave from La Fortuna every day. 

Woman swimming in Rio Celeste in Costa Rica

Entrance fee and operating hours: It costs $2 to park in either lot by the trailhead and $12 per person to actually hike the trail.

There’s no way to physically purchase tickets at the national park, so you’ll need to buy your tickets online ahead of time, which you can do here. The park is open everyday 8 AM to 4 PM (although the last entry that’s allowed in is at 2 PM). 

5. El Salto Rope Swing

Located a short walk from the downtown area, El Salto Rope Swing is one of the only free things to do in La Fortuna- and also a spectacular way to spend an afternoon!

Tucked under an unassuming bridge by Road 702, you’ll find the El Salto Waterfalls, where you can jump (did you know salto means “to jump” in Spanish?) into the cool, turquoise water from the rocky cliffs surrounding the river or from a rope swing, tied to a nearby tree.

Woman watching man do flips at El Salto Rope Swing in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Most of the souls brave enough to jump are usually locals. However, even if you’re too much of a scaredy cat to dive in (hi, that would be me!), it’s so much fun to watch the locals flip and do all kinds of crazy tricks on the rope swing. 

6. Rafting

Looking to get your adrenaline pumping? There’s several rivers that flow through the jungles around La Fortuna, many of which boast thrilling white water rapids.

If you want to get in on the action, you can book a tour, ranging from Class I through Class IV rapids, where professional guides will lead you along the narrow curves of the river and down the exhilarating drops, all while pointing out the amazing flora and fauna you’ll see in the surrounding rainforest.

Group of white water rafters on a river in Costa Rica

If you’re a newbie rafter and want to just dip your toes in (pun obviously intended), check out this tour for Class II and III rapids (the easier kinds) (from $91/person) or if you’re looking for something a bit more intense, check out this tour for Class III and IV rapids (from $85/person). 

Want to get out on the water but do something a little more chill? Consider this tour (from $51/person), where you can jump in your own inner tube and have a long, relaxing float down the turquoise waters of Rio Celeste.

7. Arenal Volcano 

The Arenal Volcano is what originally put La Fortuna on the map. In fact, up until 2010, the volcano was constantly smoking!

Couple holding hands in front of Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Nowadays, the volcano lays dormant and is almost always partially occluded by clouds (during our five days in La Fortuna, we never saw the full thing!)- but its surrounding landscape is absolutely worth exploring.

There’s two different options to hike near the volcano- you can either explore Arenal Volcano National Park or the Arenal 1968 Reserve.

Arenal Volcano National Park has two sectors- the main sector and the peninsula sector.

Woman standing in front of the Arenal Volcano along the Arenal 1968 trail in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

You can find the park’s most popular attractions in the main sector. For example, you can climb up to Coladas Lava 1992, a pile of lava rocks that provide an excellent viewpoints of the volcano. Alternatively, the Coladas and Ceiba trails can be hiked together to make an easy 5.4 km (3.4 mile) loop.

Alternatively, the Arenal 1968 is a private reserve with two trails, which weave through the luscious rainforest and eventually transition to rocky lava fields. There’s some absolutely stunning viewpoints along the way and a little cafe at the very end of the trail to get snacks and drinks overlooking the volcano.

If you can only pick one of these park, I’d actually recommend Arenal 1968, despite its higher pricepoint. It’s WAY less crowded and the views of the volcano are arguably better. Plus, you have a much better chance of seeing wildlife, given the landscape in the National Park is pretty open, as opposed to the denser jungle of Arenal 1968.

Entrance fee and operating hours: Arenal 1968 Preserve costs $25/person, whereas the national park costs $15/person. The national park opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 4 p.m. each day and Arenal 1968 is open from 8 AM to 5 PM each day.

8. La Fortuna waterfall

The La Fortuna waterfall sits right outside of La Fortuna’s downtown and is a quick bicycle ride from the main drag.

Couple walking in front of La Fortuna Waterfall in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

To reach the base of the 70 meter (229 foot) waterfall, you’ll hike down quite a bit of stairs (480, to be exact!). You can either swim in the jade-colored pool at the base of the waterfall (although word of warning- it is quite strong and not for unconfident swimmers) or in the much calmer, beautiful springs downstream. I can’t imagine a more scenic place to splash around and cool down on a hot day under the Costa Rican sun. 

Once you make the trek back up the stairs, there’s also an orchid and butterfly garden for you to explore, as well as several viewpoints to take in the waterfall and the surrounding jungle.

Entrance fee and operating hours: La Fortuna Waterfall is open from 7 AM to 5 PM everyday and costs $18 per person.

In my opinion, this price is a bit steep. However, between the stellar scenery, the convenient location, and the fact that the money is reinvested into conservation of the waterfall preserve, I ultimately think it’s worth it if you plan on actually swimming here. 

9. Ziplining

Looking for an adrenaline-pumping activity that’s not, like, actually death-defying? Well, amigo, zip-lining may just be the perfect choice- you get to fly high above the canopy of the rainforest and see the jungles of La Fortuna from a completely unique perspective! 

Man ziplining through the rainforest in Costa Rica

There’s almost a dizzying amount of ziplining operators, tours, and packages to choose from in the La Fortuna area. For example, check out the Sky Trek Canopy Tour at Arenal Sky Adventures Park, which offers amazing views of the volcano (from $89/person), or the Big AMA Canopy Tour at Arenal Mundo Aventura Ecological Park, the only zipline in the region to fly over the La Fortuna waterfall (from $85/person).

If you want to bump up the intensity a bit, consider this tour, which includes both zip-lining and rappelling down a waterfall (from $271/person). 

10. Mistico Hanging Bridges

For yet another breathtaking perspective of the jungle, stop by Mistico Hanging Bridges.

Woman walking across a suspended bridge at Mistico Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Within the park, you’ll walk along a 2.7 km (1.7 miles) trail that winds through the dense forest and across six hanging bridges that float amongst the treetops. You’ll get incredible views of the rainforest throughout the park- from the enormous leaves dangling right overhead on the bridge to the jungle floor up to 45 meters (or 148 feet) below! 

You also have a chance of seeing wildlife here, like howler monkeys, sloths, and even tarantulas. While we unfortunately saw very little critters during our visit, we could hear the beautiful sounds of wildlife all around us. To be completely transparent, from our own experience and talking to other travelers, seeing wildlife here can be a bit hit-or-miss, given that the animals are just that- wild (as they should be!).

Man looking at light rays in Mistico Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

In my opinion, there’s definitely better places to spot wildlife in Costa Rica than Mistico Hanging Bridges, like the incredible Manuel Antonio National Park.

That being said, if this is going to be your only chance in Costa Rica to explore the dense jungle and possibly spot the amazing creatures that call Costa Rica home, I’d strongly recommend going on a guided tour to Mistico Hanging Bridges, like this one, for the best chance to spot furry friends through the thick jungle canopy.

Man looking at light rays in the jungle of Mistico Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Entrance fee and operating hours: Tickets into Mistico Hanging Bridges start at $32/person and the park is open every day from 6 AM to 4 PM. 

11. Canyoning

Canyoning is one of the most thrilling things to do in La Fortuna- you’ll hop in a 4×4 with a professional guide, who will take you deep into the Costa Rican jungle. From here, you’ll rappel down waterfalls, climb down canyons, cliff jump, and swim through narrow passageways- in other words, you’ll basically be like the jungle version of Jason Statham.

Man rapellng down a waterfall in Costa Rica

While you’ll obviously be with guides who know the canyons like the back of their hands, this activity is definitely geared for the adventurous travelers who are comfortable, you know, literally jumping off canyons and whatnot- if that sounds up your alley, check out this tour, this tour, and this tour, you daredevil, you!

12. Kayaking or standup paddleboarding

While the Arenal Volcano gets all the attention, La Fortuna is also home to Lake Arenal, which sprawls almost 33 square miles at the base of the volcano. In fact, it’s the largest landlocked body of water in Costa Rica!

Lake Arenal with mountains in the background in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Of course, there’s plenty of fun water activities that get you out on the water, like kayaking or standup paddleboarding, where you can take in the views of the massive volcano towering above and the surrounding rainforest and even explore the lake’s picturesque islands.

For example, consider joining this kayaking tour, where the friendly guides will help spot tropical birds and wildlife in the surrounding landscape. Alternatively, this standup paddleboarding tour includes plenty of time on the water and a stop at a lush remote island.

Tips for Visiting La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Get places early.

My number one tip for visiting La Fortuna (and really, pretty much anyplace) is to get wherever you’re going early. Time and time again, we read reviews and met travelers complaining about how crowded certain attractions were. But for us, at almost every single place we stopped, we got there as soon as it opened- and always had the place to ourselves.

Flower on a banana tree in Costa Rica

So if you’re into photography, want to experience Costa Rica’s nature without a zillion people around, or simply just don’t like crowds, the early bird most definitely gets the worm.

Wear hiking sandals

As you may have noticed, almost all of the activities in La Fortuna are outside and involve walking- whether it’s on a coffee farm, over an old lava field, or through a jungle.

Woman wearing a bathing suit and hiking sandals sitting on a rock in front of the Blue Falls at Catarata del Toro in Costa Rica

I’d strongly recommend bringing shoes with decent traction that you can wear in and out of the water- Justin and I both wore our Teva hiking sandals (Justin has these and I have these) almost everywhere and it was awesome to have one pair of super versatile shoes no matter what kind of activity we were doing. 

Have cash on hand.

While almost all restaurants and attractions take credit cards (like, way more than any other country we’ve explored), it’s still good to have some cash on hand, if you see a roadside coconut or orange juice stand or want to pay an unofficial “security guard” to watch your car while you’re out exploring (which happens a lot here).

Woman holding a coconut in front of the Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna

Where to stay in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

While some of the activities in La Fortuna are pretty pricey, there’s definitely accommodations for every budget, from super cheap hostels for backpackers on a shoestring budget all the way up to extravagant resorts and spas for honeymooners.

Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

I’d recommend checking out:

Budget:

  • Sleeping Mountain Guesthouse: Conveniently located just a block away from La Fortuna’s main drag, with a shared kitchen to help you cut down costs on eating out.
  • Nice Place Hostel: While this is called a hostel, it definitely takes all the awesome parts of a hostel and hotel and mushes them together- you’ll have a shared kitchen and living space, but get your own bedroom and bathroom. Add in the awesome proximity to La Fortuna’s downtown and the friendly service, and this place is one of the very best budget stays in all of Arenal.
  • Selina La Fortuna: Selina is kind of eclectic, offering dorm rooms, rustic teepees, private and family suites, coworking spaces- it’s got it all going on. Plus, it offers a great location in downtown La Fortuna, free breakfast, and trendy decor. However, it’s definitely geared more towards the party crowd- so if you’re heeding my advice above about getting places first thing in the morning, you may want to look elsewhere.
Pool with the Arenal Volcano in the background in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Mid-range:

  • Hotel Sierra Arenal: This is where Justin and I stayed in La Fortuna and I really enjoyed it. The rooms are simple, but clean, there’s free tasty breakfast every morning, and a relaxing pool area to cool off in the midday sun.
  • Princesa de la Luna Ecolodge: If you’d prefer to be shielded from the hubbub of La Fortuna’s downtown area, this rustic, yet clean lodge is an excellent option. You’ll feel totally immersed in the lush rainforest, but still have luxuries, like a pool and jacuzzi, at your fingertips.
  • Monte Real Hotel: This hotel is basic, but has some nice amenities that some Costa Rican hotels lack, like refrigerators and coffee makers in each room. It’s within walking distance of La Fortuna’s downtown, offers a pool, and even has some rooms with awesome views of the volcano!

Luxury:

  • Lost Iguana Resort and Spa: Right by Mistico Hanging Bridges, this is the perfect spot if you want to feel one with the rainforest. Many rooms have sweeping volcano views and you’ll be lulled to sleep by the amazing sounds of the jungle wildlife.
  • The Springs: If we were going on our honeymoon to Costa Rica, I’d probably want to stay here. The property directly overlooks the volcano- so get ready to have incredible views while you’re swimming, soaking in hot spring… and pretty much everywhere else on the property. Add in bougie touches, like swim-up bars, and onsite activities from hiking and kayaking and this would be one incredible place to call your homebase in La Fortuna.
  • Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa: Tabacon has arguably the most beautiful and romantic hot springs in Arenal. Everything about this place absolutely screams five star resort- from the private balconies in each room to the serene Shangri-la Gardens, which are exclusively for the enjoyment of hotel guests.
Waterfall at Tabacon Hot Springs Resort

Where to eat in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

La Fortuna is an awesome homebase for all of your outdoor adventures, with plenty of places to grab food made from impossibly fresh fruits and veggies. A few of our favorites were:

  • La Street Antojeria & Restaurante (Costa Rican food)
  • Soda la Hormiga (Costa Rican)
  • Yellow Bark (Costa Rican and international cuisine)
  • Kappa (sushi)
  • La Fortuna Pub (I came for the veggie burger, but stayed for the live music and killer mojitos)
Woman holding plate of casado vegetariano at Soda la Hormiga in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

La Fortuna is seriously one of my favorite places on the planet- I literally just left and am dying to go back! Do you have any questions about La Fortuna? Sound off in the comments below!

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2 thoughts on “12 Incredible Things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica’s Adventure Capital”

  1. The website for catarata del toro says no swimming but in your post you say you can swim in the pools. Either their site is inaccurate or your post is…. Probably a good idea to figure that out and fix it. I nearly went there but decided not to since their site says you can’t swim.

    Reply
    • Hi JR,

      You cannot swim at the base of the Catarata del Toro Waterfall, due to the strong current. However, you are allowed to swim in other pools and waterfalls, like the Blue Falls or Poza Azul, in the ecological reserve that Catarata del Toro is located in (which is confusingly called Catarata del Toro).

      Hope that helps to clarify!

      Best,

      Jess

      Reply

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